Immigrants, not Criminals
The recent years in Italy have witnessed a stark increase in immigration. A first massive wave took place in the 90s, when 350000 Albanians attempted to get into Italy after the collapse of communist regimes in Eastern europe. The dramatic stories of those people have been described in Italian director Gianni Amelio’s award-winning movie Lamerica. Since then, Italy has become a main gate for immigrants from Africa and Saudi Arabia, and the rate of immigration has kept apace for almost two decades. The tiny island of Lampedusa, which receives an average of 15,000 would-be immigrants per year, has become the stage for a persistent humanitarian emergency.
As a result of this flow of immigrants, Italy’s face has changed over the last 10 years. The social fabric is becoming increasingly multicultural, and people of different races and religions are led to closer interactions. Needless to say, multicultural integration is not a painless process, as it has met the resistance of a vocal part of the Italian citizenry. Extreme Right-Wing factions have exploited the immigration debate to reemerge on the political scene. Their helpful contributions to the debate include Northern League’s proposals to ban the burqa, close mosques, introduce racial segregation on buses, and a series of action-guiding posters that keep popping up on the walls of italian cities.
“Illegal Immigrants: torture them!” It is Legitimate Defence”. Vote for Northern League.
“They have Suffered Immigration: Now They Live in a Reserve. Think About It.”
It is not surprising that some Italians lack a certain degree of sensitivity in the face of what is not white-catholic-straight. The Italian Prime Minister last year offered a glorious example of this tendency when he commented on the first black President of the US (actually, he gave another one recently). The immigrant is often seen as a threat, a disease that is spreading around the ‘civilised world’ of which Italy seems therefore to be part. “It’s the immigrants!” – Italians frequently say when someone gets killed/raped/attacked. “But I am an immigrant too! I don’t kill/rape/attack people” – I point out to my co-nationals, when I highlight the fact that I live abroad. “Yes, but you are different! – it’s the reply.
Thus, the report issued yesterday by Caritas Migrantes seems to be a very welcome sign against the (sadly) popular equation “immigrant=criminal” (an english version of the report can be found here). It shows how, even in a year of economic recession and political hostility against immigration, the number of foreigners who have moved to Italy has constantly increased. It analyses the reality of immigration in Italy compared to other countries, and what impact immigrants have on Italy’s productivity and, most of all, level of crime. A few points in the report strike me as quite interesting.
The number of Italy’s immigrants exceeds 4.5 m: very close to Spain (over 5m) and not too far from Germany (about 7m). 2008 has been the first year in which Italy’s percentage of foreigners in the total population (7.2%), ranked above the European average and, although still far from Germany and Spain (respectively 8,2% and 11,7%), has surpassed UK (6,3%).
In 2008, 36.951 people have landed on italian coasts, 17.880 have been repatriated, 10.539 have gone through centers of identification, and 6.358 have been blocked at the frontier. The Report highlights that this is not even 1/50 of the overall presence of legal immigrants in Italy: however, this has monopolised the attention of public opinion and political decision-making. Thirty-four immigrants are rejected for every 100 who are retained (the lowest rate since 2004).
In addition to this, it emerges that “there is no crime emergency in Italy due to foreign immigrants”, since crime rates are not different from those of other countries in Europe. Nationwide, the number of crimes reported have actually decreased for the last few years. The real rate of reported crimes (slightly more than 2.5m) equals that of the early 90s, that is, when mass immigration was just starting. we should not draw the conclusion “more immigrants=more crimes”. In fact, it emerges that in the period 2001-2005, the increase of the immigrant population (101%) did not parallel the rate of reports of crimes by legal immigrants (41%).
Surely, immigrants, like Italians, can commit crimes and do lots of nasty things. However, one may hope that this Report will help us reflect on the prejudice lingering behind the idea that an immigrant is, as such, a criminal.